Writing in Form: The Paradelle

At the end of semester when I was studying poetry forms, we played with some newer experimental forms. I was assigned the Paradelle, which was invented by Billy Collins in 1996. In his own words, Collins asserts “I invented the form (parody + villanelle = paradelle) in order to produce a very badly written one. . . my intention was to present a poem that would be recognized as the product of a technically incompetent and shameless poet (not necessarily me) whose choice of the paradelle form put him well outside the small realm of his reality” (396).

The first paradelle he published titled “Paradelle for Susan” came with the note Collins created to make the form seem authentic. It read “Note: The paradelle is one of the more demanding French fixed forms, first appearing in the langue d’oc love poetry of the eleventh century. It is a poem of four six-line stanzas in which the first and second lines, as well as the third and fourth lines of the first three stanzas, must be identical. The fifth and six lines, which traditionally resolve these stanzas, must use all the words from the proceeding stanzas and only those words. Similarly, the final stanza must use every word from all the preceding stanzas and only those words” (396).

Collins explains the mixed reaction readers had to this form: some saw the poem and note as the joke they were intended to be, some believed the footnote but were unimpressed with the poem itself, and others believed the note and this poem as an attempt as a good poem and were a bit appalled by his work. Ultimately, Collins notes that people started enjoying this form and sending him their work. He recognized the desire poets have to work in new forms and face new challenges.

I changed the rules a bit for mine, deleting the repetition of the lines in the first three stanzas, but I found it to be a fun form to work in, crossing out words I have used and considering what nouns to fit with what verbs.

While I was working on this assignment to write a paradelle, I went to a friend’s wedding in Boulder, CO, and on the way home, I remember looking at the clouds; they looked like strings. They were especially wispy, and this idea became part of my first paradelle (which was first published in the Oakwood Literary Magazine in 2016):

Life Rivers

Mountains hover like helicopters.
Black birds ribbon through hay bales.
Helicopters ribbon through black
mountains. Hay bales hover like birds.

Rivers vein and spread the Earth’s life blood.
Clouds fray like embroidery floss.
The Earth’s clouds spread embroidery floss;
life rivers fray and vein like blood.

Moons oversee terrestrial activities.
Constellations glitter like bronzer.
Terrestrial bronzer glitters like
constellations oversee moons activities.

Black terrestrial constellations hover
like birds and bronzer through hay bales.
Helicopters oversee the Earth’s activities,
spread blood like embroidery ribbon.
Floss clouds fray. Mountains vein
like moons glitter, life rivers.


The original form has such ridiculous repetition because Collins meant it as a parody, but I liked where it was without that repetition. This is such a fun form because you can place words next to each other that you wouldn’t otherwise think of putting together. For example, “spread blood like embroidery ribbon,” “life rivers fray and vein like blood,” and “mountains vein like moons glitter”: I would have never put these words together had they not originated in a paradelle. So, for me, this form helps me embrace some nonsense and abstraction that I might otherwise avoid.

So, if you are in a rut or you just want to play with language in a new way, try your hand at the paradelle. Find images or ideas, scramble them up, and then in the end, scramble it all together: you might find the concoction quite delicious.

Featured image by Jon Bunting under the creative commons license on Flickr.

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